Sheila Buchanan (1917-2009) was known to the congregation at First Baptist Church as an 18-year veteran missionary to Bolivia; as the Church librarian for a number of years; and as a regular volunteer in the church office.
But what wasn’t widely known was her ‘secular’ career which pre-dated all of these later activities for her church.¹
She was admitted to UBC at age 16 in 1933 where she studied Classics², receiving her B.A. in 1937. While working on her undergraduate degree, she served on the staff of the student newspaper, The Ubyssey.
With her B.A. under her belt, Sheila then took a business course and applied her training at a New Westminster business called Pacific Veneer (which later was part of Canadian Forest Products). She served as the company’s first stenographer.
A few years later, Sheila was back at UBC pursuing a degree in Agriculture with a specialization in soil microbiology. She graduated with her BSA degree in 1946. After finishing this second degree at UBC, she moved to Montreal where she worked for three years with a pharmaceutical company. Following her stint in Montreal, she returned to UBC where she took a post for 6 years in the office of the Dean of Agriculture.
Then, in 1955, Sheila was transferred to the office of the UBC President, Norman MacKenzie. With that job came her posting as the Clerk to the UBC Board of Governors and the Clerk of the UBC Senate.
The Clerk prepared the bulky dockets for meetings, drafted resolutions arising from the agenda, took minutes, saw to follow-up correspondence, and attended sub-committee meetings.
According to a former UBC Senator during Sheila’s time as Clerk: “Senate meetings only made sense to me…when I received my copy of Sheila Buchanan’s minutes.”
In 1965 she ‘retired’ from the President’s office to go to Bolivia as a missionary with the Canadian Baptist Overseas Mission Board (CBOMB). Regarding her mastery of Spanish, it was noted in the UBC Chronicle in 1965: “Her Spanish studies started when she was first living alone and wanted something easy to do while waiting for the kettle to boil.” She served in Bolivia until 1983.
Sheila wasn’t finished with academic pursuits, just yet. She graduated from McMaster University in 1995 with a Master of Divinity degree (M.Div.) at the age of 78.
Sheila was also active for many years in the Vancouver Natural History Society.
She was one amazing lady!
¹An invaluable source for this post was an article published in the June, 1965 issue of the UBC Chronicle, written by Elizabeth Blanche Norcross, which profiled the career of Sheila up to that time.
²Sheila was, apparently, a huge fan of the teaching and inspiration offered by the founder and head of the Classics department, Lemuel Robertson.